Written by NASA Astronomer Dr. Sten Odenwald

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During the last few years, odds are that you have heard about how solar storms can affect satellites, cause electrical blackouts, and raise havoc in many other ways too. We are at the beginning of Solar Activity Cycle 24, and space weather has become a major issue in many sectors of our technology. Visit my new website, which explains in detail all of the various human and technological impacts that come from solar storms and space weather. www.solarstorms.org

This web page is located at the Astronomy Cafe


Astronomy Cafe

Some reviews and reader comments.

From Publishers Weekly

During the year 2000, the number of sunspots reached the peak of their 11-year cycle, the 23rd such cycle since scientists first discovered the dark solar blotches. So what? As Odenwald, a NASA staffer and Washington Post contributor (The Astronomy Cafe), and other scientists expected, this proliferation of solar storms produced marked effects on Earth, including an increase in the intensity and extent of auroras. Odenwald warns that the 23rd cycle may also produce other, less welcome effects before it reaches its quiescent end in 2006, and the 24th cycle will be even more problematic. His prediction is based on the increasing vulnerability of advanced technology to space weather phenomena, such as bursts of X-rays and energetic particles or geomagnetic storms. The failure of satellites and even gas pipelines have been attributed to the impact of solar storms; given our increasingly networked digital infrastructure and our growing reliance on space-based technology, Odenwald foresees future problems with communication, navigation and electric power grids, all subject to sudden failure from events that begin on the sun. Astronauts may suffer radiation sickness--even death-- if caught without warning or sufficient protection. The problems are sociological and political as well as technological, Odenwald asserts. As space-based business proliferates, it is often advantageous to hide small failures due to space weather or to attribute them to other causes. Practical technological needs carry little weight when NASA funding depends on scientific merit, Odenwald declares, calling for more funding to understand and predict space weather. "The sun is not the well-behaved neighbor we would like to imagine," he says. Odenwald offers a cogent warning, which deserves to have an impact beyond the book's own immediate readership of space science enthusiasts. B&w and color illus. not seen by PW.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
With the Sun about halfway through its 23rd sunspot cycle since the 18th century, there is a chance that solar flares and coronal mass ejections (giant bubbles of hot gas erupting from the Sun) will affect the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field during the next few years. Though the effects might be limited to relatively benign auroras in remote regions, there is a small probability that sufficiently powerful solar outbursts could permanently disable communications satellites and black out entire regions of the global electrical power grid. Such disruptions are so infrequent that most satellite owners and electrical utilities have opted not to invest in protective technology, but if they do occur the economic consequences could be severe. This book presents an interesting explanation of this phenomenon, but, surprisingly, it is much more technical than one might expect from Odenwald, author of the Astronomy Cafe web site and book. Libraries seeking more general titles should consider From the Sun: Auroras, Magnetic Storms, Solar Flares, Cosmic Rays (American Geophysical Union, 1998) or Kenneth R. Lang's Sun, Earth and Sky (Copernicus: Springer-Verlag, 1997). For astronomy, space science, and engineering collections.DNancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

By John R. Keller (Houston, TX United States)

If I could give this book three and a half stars I would, but since I think some people could find it more interesting than I did, I gave it four stars.
This book describes the sun's eleven-year cycle of highs and lows in sun spot activity. While the mechanism, which produces these sun spots, is not well understand, what well known is that the sun produces vast amounts of high energy particles (radiation), both continuously and in bursts which ultimately affects the Earth's magnetic field and life on Earth. The book focused on how past solar magnetic storms have affected the power grid system and the geostationary satellites. Finally, the author makes some predictions on the upcoming solar maximum in the year 2001 and its potential for life on Earth. I should point out that the author is an astronomer and makes his predictions based on data and past experiences and not is some doomsayer trying to make a quick buck.

There are also several extremely interesting chapters on the effects of solar magnetic storms on the modern day life. One chapter shows that in 1989, a solar magnetic storm shut down a good portion of the Canadian electrical power grid, leaving some people without power for several days. The chapter on the effects of radiation on the human body was very enlightening. For example, this chapter shows that living in high altitude location like Denver was similar to receiving several chest X-rays a year. Also, radiation from cosmic sources was significantly greater than that received from living next to a nuclear power plant.

Good introduction for general science readers, July 15, 2001
By Robert L. Estes (Nashville, TN USA)

Interesting topic, though I judged the coverage to be uneven. Readers wanting an update about solar physics will be disappointed by a lack of details; but this can be supplemented by a visit to NASA’s solar physics Web pages.... Policy-makers should be impressed by the real and potential economic fallout from massive solar plasma discharges; but some of Odenwald’s detailed examples illustrate a coincidental rather than true cause-and-effect relation of solar events to Earth-based calamities. The Exon Valdez disaster is discussed at length before being dismissed, and is referenced later. Several pages detail inconveniences due to a power blackout in the D.C. area which had nothing to do with unusual solar activity. I found these references obtuse — I would have greatly preferred to see more information about the sun.
Still, the book’s final chapter is particularly illuminating, detailing current activities and difficulties for space weather researchers seeking project funding in competition with higher profile but much less utilitarian activities such as cosmology. This is followed by several interesting “notes” which provide a few more details about certain chapter topics. The last few pages quote astronomers describing stars seemingly similar to our sun which periodically emit massively greater plasma discharges, enough to literally fry our little world in an instant. Why is our sun different? This is really getting interesting! You turn the page, and that’s it — end of story.

Odenwald’s intent is to increase awareness about real and potential economic and personal safety issues related to variable solar activity. His book serves as a useful starting point for interested general science readers. Those seeking in-depth coverage of this topic will need to look elsewhere, starting with papers and documents listed in the lengthy bibliography.

Not what I expected, but not bad, October 23, 2003
Reviewer: A reader

When I saw the title of this book, I had images of butterfly diagrams, an adequate amount of astrophysics and space physics, etc. However, the book's subtitle, "Learning to Live with a Stormy Star" was a much better clue as to the book's contents. Although some stellar/space science is briefly discussed, the main theme of the book is centered on sociological hardships, financial losses, research budgets, business interests, etc., all pertaining to our periodically stormy sun. Especially highlighted are: the survival of expensive satellites in space during less than ideal space weather, the sociological effects of their loss and the effects of this weather on power grids on earth. But my unfulfilled expectations and resulting disappointment should not result in a poor rating for this book. It is well written, very informative and seems to thoroughly cover, I think, what it was apparently intended to cover - hence my rating of 4 stars.